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Ukraine's Ohio-based diaspora, allies remain committed to independence 1 year after Russian invasion

Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio

Allies of Ukraine's fight to maintain their sovereignty one year after Russia’s full-scale invasion, are gathering at 6 p.m. Friday at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus for a vigil and rally.

“Ukraine is fighting for its ability to exist,” said Natalia Lebedin, president of the Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio.

She said Ukrainian language, culture, people and freedom have been under attack. There won’t be peace until Russia is pushed out of Ukraine, Lebedin said.

The Russians expected the country to succumb quickly to the assaults, but Ukraine is stronger than that, Lebedin said.

"In their imperial fantasies, Ukraine doesn't exist, Ukrainians don't exist. So for them, believing in these fantasies, it seemed like an easy feat, like an easy task. But Ukraine and Ukrainians are, in fact, a very independent and freedom-loving people, for centuries,” Lebedin said.

The event at the Ohio Statehouse is a vigil for the people who lost their lives to the war and a rally to support Ukraine's resistance effort.

While Russia’s invasion and bombing campaign began Feb. 24, 2022, Lebedin said Russia’s assault on the country began years ago.

"Today marks the one-year anniversary of the full scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. It's been nine years since the war technically began, when they invaded the border and claimed regions of eastern Ukraine as so-called separatist states,” Lebedin said. "It was the morning of Feb. 24, when Ukrainians woke up all over the world to the worst news that they could possibly hear that basically, all parts of Ukraine were being bombed at the same time, the tanks had rolled over the borders in multiple locations. Basically, the worst-case scenario had actually happened."

Lebedin said Ukrainian refugees and immigrants deserve the chance to return to their home safely, and tourists deserve the chance to see the country’s beauty. “There is great hope. And honestly, I know that Ukraine will prevail. And then Ukrainians all over the world will be able to return,” she said.

Lebedin’s family left Ukraine for Canada as refugees following WWII. But her experience visiting the country after it attained independence is something she wants to pass down to her children.

“I grew up hearing stories about the country. It was mythical. It was fantastical, amazing. And when I finally got to visit there after independence, it was absolutely amazing, beautiful, welcoming, passionate, just so full of life and the best of humanity. And I always envisioned being able to send my kids there and visiting there with my kids, so that they could also love it as much as my grandparents, my parents and me,” Lebedin said.

Lebedin warned against believing Russian propaganda, and said Western support for the country is vital to maintaining their statehood.

“We've been working with a group of activists in North America and Ukraine that have been working to promote messaging from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense from the Ukrainian government from Ukraine and its people to help North Americans better understand what is really happening there,” Lebedin said.

Donations to the cultural association will be matched up to $5,000, and will be used to send tourniquets and blood clotting materials to the front lines.

Other ways to support the country include putting pressure on elected officials to support Ukraine and advocating for Ukrainian citizens, Lebedin said. “Learn about Ukraine, advocate for Ukraine to friends and neighbors and make sure they understand that it's not the west provoking Russia,” Lebedin said.

Lebedin said to be weary of rhetoric that “parrots Kremlin propaganda.”

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.